Town considers range of tactics to slow traffic
By Don Nelson
The town of Winthrop doesn’t want to be known as either a speed trap or a drag strip.
To that end, town officials are looking to land somewhere in between those extremes as they consider ways to slow traffic into and through Winthrop.
Speeding has been a persistent complaint over the past several years, with locals sharing some of the blame along with tourists. Fast traffic is an issue not just on Highway 20 (Riverside Avenue), but also at other approaches to town such as Twin Lakes Road, East Chewuch Road and Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road. Speed limit signs at the town limits don’t seem to have much impact at any of the entrance points.
Last fall, the Town Council created an ad hoc committee, including council members Kirsten Vanderhalf and Ben Nelson along with citizen representatives, to come up with some ideas for addressing the speed issue.
The informal Traffic Committee delivered its report to the council last week. The committee’s recommendations for “calming” traffic include better enforcement of existing limits, public education about the traffic problems, engineering actions on some streets to discourage speeding, and encouraging more community involvement.
Specific problem areas the committee cited include:
• Highway 20, both entrances. The committee said that additional electronic speed detection signs — which tell approaching drivers how fast they are going — should help slow traffic coming into town. The town has the portable signs on order and they will be installed this spring. The signs have been shown to have some positive effects in the past. The committee recommended that traffic flow data be collected from the signs to help determine additional actions to slow incoming traffic.
A planned pedestrian crossing on the highway near Pardner’s Mini Market, which will have flashing warning signs alerting motorists to stop for foot traffic, is expected to help decelerate traffic before the speed limit changes from 35 mph to 25 mph.
• White Avenue/Twin Lakes Road. The committee suggested that the town work with Okanogan County, which is responsible for the road before it enters Winthrop, to move speed limit signs to alert motorists of reduced speeds sooner.
• East Chewuch Road to Bluff Street. Speeding from this direction is common because the road is wide and the speed limit is not often enforced. The committee suggested placing a portable electronic speed detection sign at this entrance, and possibly adding bicycle lanes to narrow the driving area.
• Castle Avenue. The Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road, which has a 25 mph limit once motorists enter town, dumps vehicles directly onto Castle Avenue, where they often do not slow down. Castle Avenue residents have regularly complained about excessive speeding on the residential street and have even posted their own signs asking drivers to slow down. Suggestions include positioning an electronic speed detection sign, narrowing the driving lanes and adding bicycle lanes. More aggressive actions could include speed bumps and traffic roundabouts.
As for “general measures,” the committee recommended stepped-up enforcement of speed limits by the Winthrop Marshal’s Office — which currently has only two full-time officers. “There needs to be a balance between becoming a ‘speed trap’ and maintaining a police presence that shows the importance of following speed laws in our town,” the committee said in its memo to the Town Council. The committee also suggested that the marshal’s office be more proactive on social media to remind people of the speed limits.
The committee also suggested creation of a “slow down and enjoy Winthrop” marketing campaign, using all the existing forms of social media and exploring others.
Community involvement will also be important, the committee noted, as a substantial percentage of the speeding violations are committed by local residents. “It is important to communicate how fast people go through town and as a community we all need to take responsibility to work together and slow down through the town,” the committee said in its memo. “Also, with the influx of new residents to the area and the number of tourists walking the streets, all motorists need to adhere to the posted speed signs and decrease speed through town.”
“It will take multiple efforts” to generally slow traffic down, Vanderhalf told the council last week. She said that the committee stressed education and outreach because “there are not a lot of actionable things” to force motorists to slow down.
Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis said that narrowing traffic lanes could have some impact on slowing traffic. As to changing speed limit zones, the town will have to work with the Washington State Department of Transportation to develop traffic studies that would generate data on which to base future decisions, Sarvis said
Nelson, the other council member on the committee, said the town needs to develop specific plans to “slow people down.”
Mayor Sally Ranzau said town staff will take the committee’s recommendations under advisement and “keep working on it.”
In other business, the council began the multi-step process for annexing property to the town by setting March 3 as the date for initial consideration of a request for annexation.
The request comes from three property owners who own adjacent lots that are contiguous with the town’s boundaries. The lots are near the town tennis courts, behind the Winthrop library, and are accessed via Johnson Lane. Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said two of the lots have houses, and the third is vacant. All are zoned single-family residential.
Culp said the properties are also within the town’s potential growth boundaries.
“It’s a pretty straightforward annexation,” Culp said.